WASHINGTON, Jan. 21, 1977 (UPI)-President Carter unconditionally pardoned Vietnam era draft evaders and ordered the Pentagon to study the possibility of pardoning deserters, too.
Keeping a major campaign promise on his first full day in the White House, Carter today issued an executive order for an immediate "full, complete and unconditional" blanket pardon for thousands of evaders.
The order covers a period from Aug. 4, 1964, to March 28, 1973, and included only two minor exceptions.
White House Press Secretary Jody Powell said the Pentagon had no figures on the number of draft evaders involved. But earlier outside estimates indicated upwards of 100,000 Americans never registered for the draft to fight in the controversial Vietnam War.
An estimated 23,000 registered for the draft, but did not report when their numbers were drawn.
As for the additional study on deserters, the Pentagon estimated that 4,500 such men and women might be covered by any extension of the presidential decree.
The American Legion has roundly criticized Carter's promise to pardon evaders and called a news conference later today to voice its opposition.
Meanwhile, the National Interreligious Service Board for Conscientious said Carter's proposal did not go far enough because it did not include deserters and those "with less than honorable discharges."
Louise Ransom, spokesman for the National Council for Universal and Unconditional Amnesty-the pro-amnesty umbrella organization-called Carter's action "a marvelous step forward."
But she said "we deeply regret that the pardon did not see fit to include military resisters."
Included in the order were two exceptions said to cover only a minor number of persons.
One would forbid a pardon for anyone involved in an act of force or violence and the other any employe or officer of the Selective Service System who violated the law while serving the Government.
Powell said Carter's advisers who worked on the amnesty program-Atlanta attorney Charles Kirbo and Houston attorney David Berg-had discussed possible alternatives with every group and individual interested in the subject.
He said the President understood that many people would either think he went too far-or not far enough.
But Powell stressed Carter had discussed the issue throughout the campaign and everyone in America knew what his intentions were. He described Carter's course as "a responsible and moderate course to follow."
Powell said the pardon would permit draft evaders who had taken citizenships in other countries to apply for citizenship in this country "as any other alien."